Star athletes endure many challenges. Sometimes things get so bad that their fans even think they’re finished. For example, injuries are often unavoidable in the case of many athletes. However, some injuries are worse than others and can be incredibly difficult for players to bounce back from. Then there are the stars who fall out of love with their sport. These factors impact many athletes. Sometimes careers are compromised, but many athletes have been made shocking comebacks.
So today we’re going to look at players who made big comebacks when fans thought they would never come back. Check out the list below via Sport One and Sportskeeda.
25. Tyson Fury
Heavyweight boxer Fury is one of the most polarizing figures in the combat sports world. In 2015, he defeated one of the most dominant boxers in heavyweight history. However, he then succumbed to depression, alcoholism, and substance abuse. Most fans believed that he finished boxing forever because he blew up to ovr 300 lbs and was in no condition to fight. But then he produced one of the greatest comebacks ever.
Fury announced his return to boxing in 2018 and promptly went on a title run. He fought Deontay Wilder in an instant classic and won the rematch with a career-defining performance. Meanwhile, he changed his image to become a role model for all people suffering from mental illness. It was so unlikely, but Fury managed to change everyone’s perceptions about him. He remains controversial but there’s no doubt he’s a strong character.
Mayfield burst onto the scene and provided a spark for Cleveland’s mediocre 2018 season. After replacing an injured Tyrod Taylor, he established himself as the Browns’ starter. Fans believed that the Heisman winner was a franchise quarterback. But then he regressed badly in his sophomore year under overwhelmed head coach Freddie Kitchens. First, people took issue with his attitude and believed he didn’t show enough humility.
He finished the season with more interceptions than touchdown passes. A lot of NFL fans said darkly his career finished before it even started. In hindsight, it was unreasonable to write him off because he was young. But then, Kevin Stefanski came along and revived Mayfield’s career. The new Browns coach inspired the franchise to a postseason appearance and helped the quarterback’s fortunes.
Livingston makes this list simply because he managed to play basketball again. The NBA star suffered one of the most gruesome injuries in league history when he ravaged every ligament in his knee. He was playing for the Clippers in a game against the Charlotte Hornets. Little did he know that it would be almost two years before he finally stepped back onto an NBA court.
The rehabilitation process for these kinds of injuries is long, tedious, and grueling. Many athletes would prefer to break their leg in a clean manner instead of suffering ligament tears. However, Livingston managed to make his comeback and proved that he wasn’t finished to the naysayers. Then, he won three championship rings with the Golden State Warriors. They were well deserved.
Foreman was boxing’s big heavyweight star before Muhammad Ali stopped the hard-hitting champion in his tracks. He rebounded, but a second defeat crushed his spirit and he retired from the sport. After this, Foreman had a spiritual awakening and became a pastor. All of the available evidence said that he finished boxing for good and he wasn’t getting any younger. But then, at the age of 38, Foreman came back.
This was one of the most mesmerizing comebacks in boxing history. Finally, it culminated in him recapturing the heavyweight title at the age of 45. In sum, this was a ludicrous achievement because he was beating boxers 20 years younger than him. However, Foreman’s grit saw him through fights. In the end, his return secured his legendary status.
The decline of Woods remains one of the most dramatic in sporting history. As one of the most famous athletes on the planet, Woods was constantly in the public eye. The legendary golfer also maintained a squeaky-clean image. But that all changed when the news broke of his serial infidelities. Woods cheated on his Swedish supermodel wife Erin Nordegen with dozens of women including pornstars.
The former world number one also suffered from substance abuse and went to rehab. Many fans wrote him off and believed that his iconic career ended with a whimper. But Woods bounced back and proved he wasn’t finished. In 2019, he delighted the world of golf with his first major win in 2011. He claimed the Masters’ title after an emotional victory. His road to redemption was complete.
Colon is a massive fan favorite in the baseball world. However, the Dominican suffered a late-career setback when he missed the entire 2010 season. He hurt his rotator cuff and was unable to play. It looked like a long road back for the veteran but he proved his doubters wrong. The four-time All-Star convinced the New York Yankees to sign him to a minor league contract.
Even though he was 30 pounds overweight, Colon’s quality was evident. The Yankees added him to their roster and he impressed as a relief pitcher. It was clear that he wasn’t finished and he followed up over the next couple of seasons with improved performances. Furthermore, he made the All-Star team for the first time in seven years in 2013. As far as comebacks go, this was a great one.
Whenever Cech stepped onto a soccer field, he was instantly one of the most distinctive figures. First of all, he cuts a gigantic figure, but that was far from the only reason. He also wore a rugby-style head protector. This was because he suffered a horrible head injury in 2006. Chelsea traveled to Reading where a traumatic injury occurred. Stephen Hunt charged into him and left the goalkeeper with a fractured skull.
After surgery, doctors confirmed the injury was potentially life-threatening. They were unable to confirm if he could return to soccer because of the nature of the injury. In the end, he did play again and went on to enjoy some of the best years of his career. But he continued to wear head protection because of the risk to his skull. Cech was incredibly lucky after such a collision.
Tebow was a very polarizing figure when he joined the Denver Broncos. The Heisman Trophy winner starred for the Florida Gators but divided NFL scouts. Nonetheless, the Broncos drafted him in the first round and he had two tumultuous seasons with the franchise. There were highs and a lot of lows but eventually, they traded him to the Jets. This was a death sentence for his career, or so it appeared.
After transitioning to baseball, Tebow stunned the NFL with news of his return in 2021. The Jacksonville Jaguars confirmed that they signed the former QB as a tight end. It was so random but the news excited fans because it’s Tebow. Only time will tell whether he even plays a game for the franchise, but that doesn’t even matter really. In sum, he’s determined to show he’s not finished.
The Klitschko brothers reigned supreme over the heavyweight division for over a decade. Vitaly was the elder of the pair and was an excellent boxer. He never suffered a knockdown in his entire career. This was spectacular considering the number of fights that he had. Meanwhile, he also held multiple titles in boxing’s most glamorous weight division. But all of this took a toll on his body.
Klitschko retired in 2004 because of the number of injuries he had to deal with. Four years passed by and then he decided to come back. Many people doubted him because it was so long after he exited the sport. They thought that he was too old to fight the best young boxers. But he proved them wrong. Not only did he win fights but he won the WBC title and fought for five more years.
Many people consider St-Pierre the greatest UFC fighter ever. The Canadian has the most successful title defenses in welterweight history and also held the title twice. Furthermore, he avenged both of his losses in the division. St-Pierre was a force of nature and a very cerebral athlete. But he lost his passion for the fight game in 2013 and announced his retirement from MMA.
Four years later, St-Pierre announced his return. He insisted that he wasn’t finished and just needed to find the right challenge. He agreed to fight Michael Bisping for the middleweight belt. It was an opportunity to become a two-weight world champion. “Rush” won the fight after choking the British champion unconscious. Then he duly retired again and walked away for good.
The Washington Redskins made Smith their franchise quarterback with a massive contract. However, in 2018, Smith played in a game against the Houston Texans. It had consequences for his entire career because he suffered a gruesome leg break. In fact, it was so bad that doctors even considered amputation to save his life.
Luckily, it didn’t come to that but that didn’t change the fact that he had to fight off infections. Meanwhile, he underwent 17 surgeries so that he could return to health. Everybody thought that he was finished because the injury and recovery were both so rough. But Smith was made of tougher stuff and made Washington’s 2020 roster. Finally, he even helped them to the postseason and justifiably won the Comeback Player of the Year Award.
Broken legs are much less frequent in basketball than in the NFL or soccer. But that doesn’t mean that the injuries don’t occur. George suffered one of the most gruesome in recent history when he played in a Team USA scrimmage in 2014. Ironically, he fouled James Harden but landed awkwardly and suffered a horrific compound fracture. It was terrible to see and instantly people thought George was finished.
It was a long road to recovery but George returned. The surgery was successful and George received a pin in his ankle. In 2015, he practiced for the Pacers and was soon back playing games. Since then, George went from strength to strength. A seven-time All-Star, most fans recognize him as one of the NBA’s most talented players. But he had to show his strength of character to do it.
Elite athletes are completely dedicated to their sport. If their standards or enthusiasm drop, then it’s time for them to self-reflect. In 2011, Pettite decided that he was finished because he was no longer in love with the sport. His legacy was already magnificent because he had five World Series titles to his name. Meanwhile, he had over 240 wins as well as over 2,200 strikeouts.
The New York Yankees took some time away from baseball. Then he featured as a guest instructor at Yankees spring training. Ultimately this convinced him that he still had more to give and the franchise was delighted to take him back. The pitcher played for another couple of seasons before hanging up his glove for good. This time he was happy to say that enough was enough.
Ramsey broke onto the scene with Cardiff City and attracted the attention of bigger clubs with his performances. Finally, Arsenal brought him to the Emirates Stadium where he became a starter for the club. But he suffered a broken leg when Stoke’s Ryan Shawcross scythed him down. The injury was so bad that many analysts doubted that he would be the same again.
Luckily, Ramsey made a full recovery. Not only this, but he developed into one of Arsenal’s most important players. After multiple seasons in London, he decided to further his career by moving to Italian giants Juventus. Meanwhile, Ramsey also starred for his native Wales on the international stage. It took conviction to return but he proved he could do it.
Lomachenko is one of the most mesmerizing boxers on the planet. In his early days, his nicknames were ‘Hi-Tech’ and ‘The Matrix’ because of his movement. The Ukrainian cut angles like nobody else in the sport. As a result, he bamboozled his opponents and regularly made them quit on their stools. But then he ran into Teofimo Lopez in a bid to become the unified lightweight champion.
Loma was undersized compared to the bigger Lopez. He also carried a shoulder injury coming into the fight. As a result, Lopez put on the best performance of his career and won a decision against the icon. Immediately, many fans said that this was the end for Lomachenko. But he bounced back after recovering from shoulder rehab and destroyed Masayoshi Nakatani.
As the most celebrated NBA star ever, Jordan rocked the world when he retired in 1993 after the murder of his father. The tragic event traumatized the Chicago star and made him question everything about his life. As a result, he walked away from basketball because he wasn’t motivated to play. But nobody thought that he was going to become a Minor League baseball player.
But that’s exactly what happened. Jordan wanted some time out of the spotlight and to have some fun. Of course, he wasn’t finished and eventually returned to the NBA with recharged batteries. He proceeded to win three more championships with the Bulls. At the time he truly believed that he had finished with basketball for good. Luckily this wasn’t the case.
Vick was the hottest quarterback in the NFL. He changed the game with his rushing style. But then a massive scandal emerged when he faced criminal charges. In short, he was the leader of a dog-fighting operation. It was one of the most insane stories in sports history because of his stature and the nature of the crime. He even went to jail because of his cruelty to animals.
Needless to say, most NFL fans thought that he was finished. Between the time he spent in jail and his tarnished image, it looked like it was all over. However, Vick was like a cockroach in an apocalypse. He returned to action with the Philadelphia Eagles and continued to play well for the franchise. Of course, Philly reverted to type by hiring him in the first place, but he changed many people’s minds.
Gutierrez became a cult figure in Newcastle because of his wholehearted commitment to the team. The Argentinian starred for his national side in the 2010 World Cup. He played in defense for his country but was an energetic midfielder for Newcastle. Meanwhile, when he scored a goal he pulled on a Spiderman mask to celebrate. But news of his testicular cancer dismayed the soccer world in 2013.
Luckily, he responded well to treatment and managed to recover. Gutierrez also ensured his return to full fitness and made himself available to play. Initially, Newcastle loaned him to Norwich before he returned to his club. It was an emotional moment for everybody in the stadium because he was such a popular figure. He refused to accept that he was finished because he knew that he could play again.
Bisping was one of MMA’s great pioneers but it seemed like he wouldn’t be more than that. The British fighter stayed loyal to the UFC throughout his career but a title shot remained elusive. Whenever he came within a fight of winning the belt, he suffered a heartbreaking defeat. It looked like he would retire without ever competing for the biggest prize.
However, he put a late winning streak together that culminated in him beating Anderson Silva. When Chris Weidman dropped out of a fight against Luke Rockhold, Bisping took his shot. He traveled to Las Vegas from Thailand on two weeks’ notice and knocked Rockhold out in the first round. It was one of the most stunning upsets ever but no more than Bisping’s career deserved.
Even though ‘Gronk’ played for the Patriots, he was still popular across the NFL. The tight end’s phenomenal skills as well as his penchant for partying endeared him to many people. Finally, after winning three Super Bowls and suffering a lot of concussions, he decided to hang up his cleats. But he wouldn’t have made this list if he didn’t return. When Tom Brady called, Gronkowski answered.
After he sat out the entire 2019 season, Gronk decided that his career wasn’t finished. The Tampa Bay Buccanneers lured him back and he went on a glorious comeback. The five-time Pro Bowler helped guide the Bucs to a Super Bowl win in their own stadium. It was an incredible moment to witness two Pats icons lift the Vince Lombardi Trophy in Tampa colors.
Ali lit up the heavyweight division before the U.S. Army drafted him to fight in the Vietnam War. He infamously decided that he didn’t have any dispute with the Viet Cong and refused to compete. As a result, he almost went to prison and lost four peak years of his career because of a suspension. Looking back, it was a travesty that he suffered the way that he did. But he stayed true to his principles.
Astonishingly, he wasn’t finished fighting either. Ali boxed again albeit with a different style. After it became clear that he was no longer as slick as before, he developed his rope-a-dope style. He used this in iconic fights against the likes of Joe Frazier. However, he also endured a lot more punishment than before his forced break from the sport. It was still one of the most remarkable comebacks ever.
Drogba was a force of nature when he played for Chelsea. The big Ivorian was a powerful presence at the tip of the Blue’s attack. He bullied defenders and also scored a lot of goals. However, all good things come to an end and he departed in 2014 in the best way possible. Chelsea won the Champion’s League after Drogba scored the winning penalty in the shootout.
Fans believed that this was the end for Drogba in a blue shirt. He moved to China and Turkey with moderate success. But then, news broke that delighted fans. Chelsea announced Drogba’s return on a short-term contract. While he was no longer the same behemoth as before, he still played a valuable part in the season. One of soccer’s most generous players, he funded many hospitals in his home country.
When Brady left the New England Patriots in 2020, many fans said he was finished. They believed it wasn’t possible to teach an old dog new tricks. He had to adapt to Bruce Arian’s style of football and also learn an entirely new playbook. Furthermore, they also said that he wouldn’t win without Bill Belichick’s guidance. After some early struggles, Brady proved everybody wrong.
Not only did he help the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to the playoffs, but he also guided them to a Super Bowl win. He outshone the opposing Patrick Mahomes in an MVP performance. Also, he helped the Bucs win the coveted prize in their own stadium. This was the first time a franchise ever achieved this. Finally, Brady’s seven Super Bowl wins were more than any individual franchise.
Abidal’s return was nothing short of magnificent. A left-back for the French international team and Barcelona, he was a great player. But then he suffered a harrowing blow. Doctors found a tumor in his liver and he underwent treatment. Incredibly, he responded well and even played the full 90 minutes of Barcelona’s Champions League win over Manchester United. It was an emotional moment but a beautiful one.
However, bad news struck when it emerged that Abidal’s cancer returned. Surgeons gave him a liver transplant and he bounced back again. Determined to prove he wasn’t finished, he returned to Barcelona before a move to Monaco in his native France. To sum up, Abidal showed the heart of a lion as he refused to allow cancer to get the best of him. This is one of the most inspirational stories on this list.
Before 2021, there was no doubt that Paul was a future Hall of Famer. However, he was also one of the NBA’s biggest names to lack true playoff successes. He established himself as one of the league’s best players but never made an appearance in the Finals. It looked like his career would end with this case. But then things changed drastically. In his 16th NBA season, Paul joined his fifth franchise, the Phoenix Suns.
The Suns have a miserable postseason record over the past couple of decades. But Paul revitalized them and inspired them on an unlikely playoff run. He overcame adversity to knock out LeBron James’s Lakers. Meanwhile, his Suns swept the Nuggets in style. Most people thought that he missed his chance to be a contender but Paul didn’t listen. He was in the right place at the right time.